Good thing former BYU running back Mark Atuaia got back home to Pullman.

He got home before his bosses pulled the plug on expenses.

Now a Washington State assistant coach, Atuaia recently took a recruiting trip to American Samoa to find football prospects for the Pac-12 school. He is the first major college football coach to visit the island since COVID-19 struck the globe and travel to many Pacific islands shut down.

Atuaia returned home just in time. Good thing he had a round-trip ticket.

Earlier this week, Washington State president Kirk Schulz ordered a “temporary freeze” on all current and future WSU athletics vacant positions and put a pause on nonessential travel, purchases and new personnel development.

This comes because of a “significant decrease in the Pac-12 revenue distribution as a result of overpayments from one of the conference media partners that must be resolved,” as reported by Brett McMurphy of Action Network HQ.  

“Additionally, WSU projects that Cougar athletics exceeded its expenditures for the year due to inadequate documentation of revenues and expenses,” McMurphy reported.

It remains to be seen if Atuaia’s long trip to Samoa, where his roots and family ties run deep and broad, is deemed “nonessential” or necessary.

But in brief, WSU is hurting. It’s a school that plans to break ground on an indoor practice facility next fall and now it’s cutting costs to avoid further debt.

This is interesting because according to a recent league dispatch the Pac-12 distribution per school was the highest in league history, although lower than all other Power Five conferences.

Not long after Schulz made his announcement, WSU sports information director Bill Stevens told 247Sports that associate director of athletics and CFO Brent Meyer “tendered his resignation in April and WSU accepted.”

WSU’s financial crisis might have been brought on by some mismanagement. But for sure, overspending, a gluttonous track record of egotistical expenditures, and expensive leases in costly San Francisco to headquarter the Pac-12 by previous commissioner Larry Scott added to the problem.

Pac-12 schools now in the middle of finding a TV partner are liable for a $50 million payback to Comcast for overpayments during the COVID-19 epidemic when the league shut down competition.

The individual bill for each school more than $4 million.

This comes after a report by the San Jose Mercury News that Scott left the league with $50 million in his pocket, including a $4 million pot of gold in his final year as commissioner. It would be hard to find a sports administrator in any sport that pillaged a league as quickly and deeply as Scott did during his tenure and upon departure.

This makes one feel sorry for his replacement George Kliavkoff. He has to clean up the mess, find a new TV deal in a very bad economic environment, and report to presidents that he, well, has nothing to report to.

Does this action by Schulz look like a move made by a president that is expecting a new media deal that will surpass the $31.5 million per school payout by the Big 12? That is a promise a source made to Oregon sports columnist John Canzano last fall.

That source predicted: “We are confident to beat that number ($31.5 million), a Pac-12 source told me,” wrote Canzano.

WSU isn’t the only financial bump in Pac-12 land. Last November Cal had a deal for $17.5 million with FTX for naming rights of Memorial Stadium and it lasted 450 days. FTX filed for bankruptcy in a cryptocurrency exchange scandal that rocked a myriad of businesses and political contribution accounts.

The Business Sports Journal reports Pac-12 schools will need to make up their share of $50 million due to Comcast in two ways. First, dip into the Pac-12 emergency reserve fund, and second, use campus discretionary funds. “It is up to university presidents how to use campus reserves,” according to BSJ reporting.

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This $5 million shortfall caused by the Comcast debt will impact different schools in different ways along the Pac-12 landscape. Some can handle and absorb it; others can’t. The challenge has been discussed for months, including this piece in The Los Angeles Times by J. Brady McCoullough.

As Schulz told a member of the Washington State Board of Regents weeks ago, he anticipates a new league media deal soon, but not immediately while admitting the “optics” look bad.

Locally, Utah appears to be just fine despite plowing through the COVID-19 crisis and taking a hit like other Pac-12 schools who elected to limit competition.

In February, athletic director Mark Harlan said back in 2020 the school expected to lose about $50 million or more from COVID-19 fallout but in the end the university lost only $31 million. This past fiscal year the $75 million generated by its football program helped Utah pocket a $3.8 million profit,

Here is a comparison of how the Pac-12 and Big 12, (which BYU will join this summer) did in recent accounting revenue.

In conclusion, it’s nice to have Atuaia return home in the nick of time.